Saturday early evening in the museum courtyard. An audience surrounded the outdoor stage. The bright L.A. sunshine was softening, and a peculiar figure wove through the crowd, dressed in white linen, a neon fur cape, and a white and silver mask of makeup, shielded with the ubiquitous beige Getty umbrella. The band started playing, the shrouded man hopped on stage, and the performance began.
The Getty’s Saturdays Off the 405 outdoor music series blasted open with post-punk provocateurs Les Savy Fav—four parts polished, button-downed rockers (bassist Syd Butler, drummer Harrison Haynes, and guitarists Seth Jabour and Andrew Reuland), one very big part singer and bearded wildman Tim Harrington. Whether you loved it or hated it, two things are certain: they have the music chops, and they put on an unforgettable show.
You could sense it was going to be a special night during sound check. The band was playing bits of their songs, and Tim was singing to an intrigued but spotty crowd of museum visitors perched by the courtyard fountain. One enthusiastic visitor asked if he could come onstage and jam with them on bass. The band obliged, and Tim improvised a jolly rockin’ afternoon-picnic-inspired-surrealist song—“I’ve got a hamburger head!” he toodled. Kids were dancing, and it was really fun.
The band’s friendly, accessible demeanor is pretty amazing considering that these guys make dissonant, idiosyncratic rock music, and they do it with Tim’s spastic vocals and madcap antics as the centerpiece. But they clearly enjoy performing, and they’re fantastic at seducing their audience with a combo of genuinely good post-rock and a sincerely playful, zany frontman. The unflappable band played on, never missing a beat, while a tightly packed audience circled the stage, anxious to witness one of Tim’s well-known performances in the flesh. He danced, made a few costume adjustments along the way, and sang to and with his fans both on and off stage.
I’ve been listening to Les Savy Fav since my college days in Providence, when they were art students at the Rhode Island School of Design. I’m probably being nostalgic, but I love their older, more abrasive sound, à la Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses. But their newer, somewhat slicker music is great too, and after hearing it in crowded dark clubs, it sounded fantastic in an outdoor venue.
Framing the set was the charming DJ Mario Cotto, of the self-titled super-chill KCRW radio show we all listen to driving around Los Angeles on Saturday nights. He was charged up to play his first gig at the Getty with Les Savy Fav. Lots of fans stopped by the DJ table to say hello and poke through his great treasure trove of vinyl.
Les Savy Fav told me that they had just finished recording their new album the week before in New York. They were so excited about it, they even played a few untitled songs at the concert. The album is called Let’s Stay Friends. After all these years, I’m happy to report that Les Savy Fav still puts on a killer show, and that I’m totally still their friend.